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*200 delegates from all levels across Asia-Pacific gathered in Bangkok to discuss the role of Forest Communities in addressing some of the most pressing challenges we face
*Delegates agreed that Community Forestry must “go to the next level,” contribute to national development programs and be included as a cross-cutting resource in addressing challenges from climate change to endemic poverty and natural disaster reduction
*A Call for Action is currently being ratified and will be released for action at other fora to mark the International Year of Forests and COP 17 in Durban
Over 200 delegates from 25 countries came together in Bangkok this past week to express a firm commitment to support community forestry in the Asia-Pacific region. The Second Regional Forum on Community Forestry – Key to Solving Current and Emerging Challenges was held in Bangkok August 8-9, 2011, under the aegis of the Royal Forest Department, Thailand, together with RECOFTC - The Center for People and Forests, ASEAN Social Forestry Network, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Key supporters of the forum included Norad, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Sida, and Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau.
The Forum built upon the First Forum for People and Forests held in Vietnam in 2008 and, more recently, the International Conference on Forest Tenure, Governance and Enterprise held this July in Lombok, Indonesia where the forceful assertion of rights by Indigenous Peoples and local communities has evoked a matching response from CSOs, NGOs, academics, business and governments.
The Second Regional Forum was well-timed to discuss further expansion of people-centered forestry in the years ahead. The keynote speaker, ASEAN Social Forestry Network Secretariat Chairperson Dr. Haryadi Himawan, emphasized the important role of local people in sustainable forest management and the importance of supporting the livelihoods of some of the poorest and most vulnerable populations in Asia – who often pay the highest price in forest loss and climate change. RECOFTC Executive Director Dr. Yam Malla gave an inspiring address on his thirty-year career in community forestry, stressing the need for community forestry to take a “quantum leap forward.”
Talks spanned a broad range of social and community forestry issues, from the origins of the movement and government decentralization to gender equity and REDD+. The morning sessions on each day were dedicated to presentations in plenary, with the afternoons reserved for presentations and discussions in smaller groups. Among the plenary speakers were Mr. Patrick Durst, FAO Senior Forestry Officer, Asia and the Pacific, who spoke on drivers of change in deforestation and emphasized that “the only constant we can plan for is constant change.”
Mr. Francisco Chapela from Rainforest Alliance, Mexico, reported in plenary that nearly all remaining forestland in Mexico and Guatemala is managed by indigenous people, who have an incentive to conserve their forest resources. Dr. Jeannette Gurung, Director of WOCAN, spoke on women’s systematic exclusion from forestry activities worldwide and how community forestry can help address this problem.
On the first day, the afternoon was dedicated to a “Knowledge Fair” highlighting local and country-specific experiences and lessons learned in community forestry. We heard about an innovative public-private partnership between local people and a Finnish logging company, Stora Enso, in Laos as well as challenges and opportunities for community forestry in mangrove reforestation in Myanmar. RECOFTC staff also spoke on capacity building for REDD+ implementation in Asia-Pacific. The Knowledge Fair presentations demonstrated that there is indeed impressively broad experience with people-centered forestry in the region, with local people transforming degraded landscapes into thriving forests and more effectively protecting existing forestland.
On Tuesday afternoon the delegates broke into eight groups to work on drafting a Call for Action, a collaborative document outlining expectations for governments, local people, civil society, the private sector, and academia to support and bolster community forestry. After much spirited debate, we settled on a final draft that will be released later this month after being ratified by Forum participants. Stay tuned!